A vision on the polo field with her flowing mane whipping in the wind, Pretty Bird Woman’s (Treasured Too x Truly Miss Kirk) tobiano coat instantly conjures up images of the wild painted ponies of the American west, standing out in every sense. Born on the hallowed grounds of the Battle of the Little Bighorn at the base of the river, Pretty Bird Woman was discovered, much like a living historical relic, by Dawn Jones on invitation from Chuck Real Bird of the Crow Indian Nation. Captivated by her beauty, loving personality and the history of her Native American heritage, the Jones’ have owned Pretty Bird Woman for almost 17 years as the mare approaches her twenty-first birthday. Resolute and fearless in all her endeavors from the high-goal field to the Hollywood movie set, Pretty Bird Woman carries within her the spirit of her namesake, Chuck Real Bird’s late sister.
San Saba’s Sarah Wiseman and Pretty Bird Woman ride off Nina Clarkin in the 2018 U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship®. ©Kaylee Wroe
Complimented for possessing a speed and bump which has often caught others off guard, Pretty Bird Woman’s journey from the battlefield to the polo field was a natural progression. Sired by the World Champion Paint Running Horse and a descendant of the famous Quarter horse Easy Jet, Pretty Bird Woman has received her own recognition by the American Paint Horse Association for outstanding running ability. Entrusted to other players including 8-goaler Sarah Wiseman in the 2018 U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship® and Danielle Lussi in the 2020 Texas Women’s Open, Pretty Bird Woman once again took the field for Lussi’s U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship® debut with Polo Gear Coffee Company.
Bonding with the mare over the course of her three-year intercollegiate career (2012-2014), Lussi met and learned to play polo on Pretty Bird Woman during Harvard Polo clinics hosted annually by university alum Tommy Lee Jones at his San Saba ranch in Texas. Giving to the sport in every capacity, Pretty Bird Woman’s unexpected offspring T-Bird is among the horses which have been donated by the Jones’ to the men’s and women’s Harvard polo teams. Playing together in Florida, Argentina and Texas over the years, Lussi and Pretty Bird Woman reunited for the 2021 U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship®, competing at the highest level of women’s polo before the mare’s retirement.
Pretty Bird Woman on the pony line during the 2021 U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship®. ©David Lominska
How did Pretty Bird Woman get her name?
Shawn Real Bird: “She was named after my father, Chuck Real Bird’s, oldest sister Martha Real Bird – Little Light. My aunt Martha’s Crow Indian name was Pretty Bird Woman. In the Crow culture when a deceased relative’s name is bestowed to a descendant this individual will receive good fortune, luck, wisdom and prosperity. This cultural tradition was transcended to the naming of the mare Pretty Bird Woman and because of this name she has had good fortune, luck, wisdom and prosperity in the racing industry.”
Dawn Jones and Pretty Bird Woman in the 2019 Texas Women’s Open. ©Kaylee Wroe
How did you come to own Pretty Bird Woman?
Dawn: “Tommy Wayman invited my husband to participate as a judge in the World Championship Indian Relay Race at the Sheridan WYO Rodeo and there we met Chuck Real Bird who was an organizer. Shortly after attending the event, Chuck Real Bird invited us to go on a trail ride from the infamous ‘Crows Nest’ to the site of the Battle of Little Bighorn in Montana. We took our time and arrived to Chuck’s home by dark, never seeing the battlefield in daylight. Chuck invited me to return anytime to visit his home and see the battle site and I promptly accepted. When I returned I met Pretty Bird Woman and her equine family who had been bred and raised by the Real Birds like family members. I was really astonished at how loving, sweet and beautiful the horses were. Pretty Bird Woman had great confirmation, a short back and a stocky hind end, which I really liked.
I came home and I couldn’t wait to tell my husband how excited I was about Pretty Bird Woman and Miss Red Earth, two of the mares I had seen. I told him I really wanted to take another look and I thought one of them might be a good polo horse. Tommy suggested I take Victoria ‘Tori,’ my stepdaughter. I rode a couple of the horses and I really liked the way Pretty Bird Woman moved. She was just as calm as could be and she wasn’t afraid of anything. I called my husband and said I wanted this horse and Tori wanted her too and because he can’t say no to his daughter it worked out really well!”
Sarah Wiseman prepares to make her shot. ©Kaylee Wroe
What are her greatest strengths on the field?
Dawn: “She’s like having a tool in the toolbox for a specific purpose, she’s really good at marking and she likes it. She’s so flexible, she just turns inside of herself. You better have your butt screwed down on that horse when you take a turn because she will do it. She actually likes to bump on plays and sometimes that gets me into trouble because I have to ride her out of it. When you ask her for her seventh gear it’s pretty damn fast so be prepared. She also stops really well, is very handy, powerful, and she certainly has a big heart.”
Danielle: “Now that I’ve improved as a player it’s amazing to be able to keep up with Pretty Bird Woman a bit more instead of letting her just lead the way. As soon as I get on her I feel so much more confident because I know that we can turn as fast as everyone else, if not faster. Her anticipation is incredible, so if you’re also thinking that fast then it really is so fun because you know you can compete with everyone else on the field.
“Pretty Bird Woman was the horse you fought for during clinics. You knew you could win every bump and you wouldn’t even have to ask her. She knew what she had to do, and she’d just take you to the play.” – Danielle Lussi
When do you bring Pretty Bird Woman onto the polo field?
Dawn: “She’s mostly used to mark other players and that’s her purpose. If I had to mark Nina Clarkin I think I’d probably use Pretty Bird Woman just because I’m confident with her and I know she can stop on a dime, turn instantly, and maybe even get to the spot sooner. On Pretty Bird Woman I could delay my opponent for a split second to give my team a little extra time to regroup or get the ball. Her mission on the field is to neutralize good players for a brief moment and just try to whittle away a little bit of time for her team, a split second here, a split second there.
Polo Gear Coffee Company’s Danielle Lussi riding off Hawaii Polo Life’s Mia Cambiaso. ©David Lominska
“According to folklore, Crazy Horse was apparently riding a paint in the Battle of the Little Bighorn which I find intriguing. That’s meaningful for me because it harkens to the past. If Crazy Horse had confidence on a paint during battle that says plenty!” – Dawn Jones
Why do you keep her mane long?
Dawn: “That was a rule that was made by Victoria on day one because Pretty Bird Woman’s a Crow Indian horse—and her mane will never be clipped. Victoria was 12 or 13 years old when we got Pretty Bird Woman and we’ve honored her rule and desire and we kind of liked the idea too. According to folklore, Crazy Horse was apparently riding a paint in the Battle of the Little Bighorn which I find intriguing. That’s meaningful for me because it harkens to the past. If Crazy Horse had confidence on a paint during battle that says plenty!”
Pretty Bird Woman charges ahead with her long mane. ©Kaylee Wroe
Was there a specific moment when you knew Pretty Bird Woman would end up in your string?
Dawn: “It took a few years and we just took our time. We weren’t in a rush, because we never really thought she was going to be this remarkable mare in polo. When Tommy [Lee Jones] was doing post-production on The Sunset Limited in 2010 we were staying in Los Angeles, California, and we went to Eldorado Polo Club [Indio, California] to play some green horses and she was part of that group. That’s when I realized ‘oh my gosh this horse is remarkable’; she took me everywhere. She would blow past other players if I asked her to and she would mark, keep her composure, and stay collected nicely. That’s when I realized she had some talent.”
Has she been featured in any major motion pictures?
Dawn: “Pretty Bird Woman’s most famous appearance was in 2014 in a couple scenes of ‘The Homesman.’ She also participated briefly in ‘The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.’ In ‘The Homesman’ she is in a scene with Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones who are on a wagon heading east. Pretty Bird Woman is being ridden by an American Indian.
Around the film set she’s not afraid of anything. There’s the boom operator with a wind protector, cameras, cranes, lights – none of it phases her. She’s not afraid at all, she’ll just walk right up and hang out with the crew.”
Describe Pretty Bird Woman’s personality.
Dawn: “One extraordinary thing about Pretty Bird Woman is that she’s incredibly friendly and seeks out companionship. She has always been happy to spend just as much time with a human being as another horse but also she’s learned to be very self-reliant and independent. A majority of horses I’ve encountered or spent time with from Argentina are not interested in having a bonding human friendship, whereas Pretty Bird Woman is very different. She just has a kind eye and will give whatever she can. She’s just the most adorable, kind, caring and giving mare.
However it seems like she’s in a no man’s land in terms of relationships with some of our horses. While Nicola and Fernanda love spending time with her, the other horses on the ranch are not very kind, and they pull on Pretty Bird Woman’s mane and tail, but she doesn’t retaliate. She’s tolerant, and I just really admire that about her. She’s a shining example of enjoying life no matter what it brings.”
Danielle Lussi riding Pretty Bird Woman in the 2021 U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship®. ©David Lominska
What are your plans for her in the future?
“Tommy and I never really had any plans to breed Pretty Bird Woman on purpose. We have a couple of nice breeding prospects and it’s so tempting because they really are remarkable polo horses. I think there’s potential for offspring that would be beautiful to see continuing to play the sport in the future. Right now this is Pretty Bird Woman’s chance to play a little bit more polo before she’s definitely retired and becomes a ranch horse for my husband.”